Alvin Bowles is the CEO of Grab Networks, a media company that licenses and distributes short form video online. We spoke to him recently about a number of topics including his background, how online video distribution is becoming more targeted, and the fast growth of Grab over the last year.
The Makegood: Alvin you joined Grab Networks as CEO after a distinguished career with large media companies like Viacom, Sony, AOL and others. What made you want to make the leap to a smaller company?
After progressing at serving serval major media companies, I was looking for a professional opportunity that leveraged my experience across a number of platforms (digital, traditional media, music, etc.) in a fast growing sector of digital media. I felt that with a solid foundation of fundamentals on how media companies leverage content for advertisers and end users, I could make a significant contribution with the right company to help fuel growth. Further, in the roles I held at these large companies were very “intra-preneurial” where I was building new business units within larger divisions with a limited resource allocation and short time horizon, change was not so different. I feel fortunate to be able to grow and direct a company in a high growth industry into a recognizable, formidable entity in the digital media marketplace.
Over this past year I primarily spent my time sharpening our focus as a distributed media company, simplifying our offering to the marketplace and diversifying our partners. I’m extremely pleased and proud with our progress in 2011 and I look forward to larger expansion in 2012.
The Makegood: Similar to how television spawned cable networks in the 1980’s, moving into 2012 Grab Networks will be focusing on distributing online video content to audiences with specific interests and behaviors. Why this strategy and why now?
We believe that digital video distribution is the natural evolution of television. Cable networks were introduced into the marketplace to offer a variety of content to consumers to enhance audience targeting for advertisers. What we’re seeing today isn’t any different – Grab has the ability to reach consumers beyond traditional demographic profiles and deliver against the notion of contextual relevance which enhances performance. The key to this market growth is scale – just like the cable providers in their early years, the medium didn’t become relevant until it reached sufficient scale. Further, the cable providers had independent verification(Nielsen) which legitimized their natural growth. Having our industry embrace consistent 3rd party verification will be an important driver of growth and expansion. If content truly is “King”, then distribution is “King Kong.” However, we need a mutually agreed upon score card to determine the true winners.
The Makegood: What kind of growth has Grab seen over the last year and what is driving it?
Grab has had a monumental year, in fact, according to Comcsore we are the fastest growing video company on the web. This growth is attributed to strong performance in the advertising upfront marketplace, diversification of our distribution platform and the continued pipeline of high quality, premium content. We leverage our business model to deliver pre-roll ads for brands adjacent to professionally produced assets, distribute branded entertainment to large scale audiences and showcase episodic content to “hard-to-reach” audiences. Further, we’re increasingly seeing major media companies and publishers approach us to distribute their video content, with ads they have sold against our distribution footprint as an “audience extension” deal.
The Makegood: Spanish language telenovelas are a popular form of entertainment but very difficult for viewers to find online. What are your plans for distributing this content?
While this isn’t our exclusive focus, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the consumption of both Spanish language and English language content for the Latino audience. Performing well in this space requires a unique combination of content, distribution and advertising – all focused on this segment. The Latino audience, like most others, is not monolithic and there is a wide range of interests and topics that engage consumers. Grab is working with the leading content providers in this space along with advertisers interested in this fast growing constituency of consumers across all genres of content, including, but not limited to the telenovelas. We view this as a large growth segment for Grab as well as the overall digital video marketplace.
The Makegood: You are a former sales guy that has embraced his “inner nerd.” How has this helped you to manage Grab’s talented team of engineers?
I’ve always had analytical approach to business, even in my sales capacity throughout my career. So much of successful selling is in fact listening to your customers and then customizing a solution that meets their needs – management is not very different. Managers need to foster an environment of open communication fueled by a natural curiosity and respect for the work that everyone in your organization delivers, especially within disciplines that are technical. Engineers are essentially technical “artists” and an open dialogue ensures the sharing of best practices and clarifying areas of opportunity for improvement.
It is also important to note that managers must be honest about what you know and what you don’t; you have to trust that you’re subject matter experts are advising you on whats best for the business. My job is to listen carefully and to enable my team to remove impediments for growth and improvement. As a venture backed entity, I approach each division like an internal customer and ensure that I are transparent on objectives and present a clear path to achieve them with input from key stakeholders.
The Makegood: Thanks, Alvin.